Wednesday, June 27, 2018

WILD & WONDERFUL WEDNESDAY: Siege: How General Washington Kicked the British Out of Boston and Launched a Revolution


ABOUT THE BOOK

Step back to British-held Boston and hear the voices of citizens, militiamen, and redcoats at a turning of the tide in the American Revolution, brought to life in Roxane Orgill's deft verse.

It is the summer of 1775. The British occupy Boston and its busy harbor, holding residents captive and keeping a strong military foothold. The threat of smallpox looms, and the town is cut off, even from food supplies. Following the battles of Lexington and Concord, Congress unanimously elects George Washington commander in chief of the American armed forces, and he is sent to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to transform the ragtag collection of volunteer militiamen into America's first army. So far the war is nothing more than a series of intermittent skirmishes, but Washington is in constant fear of attack — until he takes the offensive with results that surprise everyone, the British most of all. Roxane Orgill uses verse to zoom in on the siege of Boston that launched the war to defeat the British, giving voice to privates and generals, their wives and city residents. to tell a story that is usually overlooked in Revolutionary War history. Back matter includes source notes, a glossary, and a bibliography.

REVIEW

I wasn't aware this book was written in free verse until I picked it up to read it.  I've developed a fondness for free verse stories as I've become an adult.  Sadly I'm not sure I would have picked this up as a kid.  But it's a fabulous telling of one of the major events leading into the American Revolution.  The siege of Boston was the prelude to the 'official' start of war between the patriots and the British and as such was an important series of events in moving the country towards independence. 

One of the problems with writing history nonfiction for young readers is knowing how many details to include.  If you don't include enough, the young reader doesn't get a good picture of events, but if you include too many details, the reader will get bogged down and lose interest.  So the combination of free verse with it's limited word use with history makes for a great combination.  But only if the writing is well done.  And the writing here is very well done.  The poems are short enough to be quick to read, but include enough information to be compelling.  At least I found the writing compelling.  The author also did a fabulous job balancing different aspects of the story.  There are poems about Washington and the challenges he faced in pulling together untrained, poorly supplied, volunteer soldiers from across the area.  There are poems about the orders given by Washington in an efforts to establish some discipline.  There are poems about life in the camps (mostly boring with occasional events of interest).  Poems about the British in Boston give a look at a city under siege.  Henry Knox's remarkable trip to Fort Ticonderoga to obtain artillery for the fledgling army provide a glimpse into the challenges that the patriots faced. 

Overall, Orgill has written a fascinating account of an important event in American history.  This is a book that would be a great teaching tool in either history classes or Language Arts classes.  The options are numerous here.  But I think history-loving middle grade readers who pick this up will find much to enjoy as well.


Monday, June 25, 2018

MMGM: The Wishmakers by Tyler Whitesides


ABOUT THE BOOK

Ace unwittingly releases a genie from a peanut butter jar and gets unlimited wishes that he must learn to use with their consequences before all the world's cats and dogs turn into zombies who will eat mankind.

REVIEW

Having enjoyed Whitesides Janitors series I was thrilled to discover this new series.  The concept behind this new series is a clever one, one I haven't seen in any other book I've read.  Ace doesn't expect anything except peanut butter when he opens that peanut butter jar to make himself a sandwich.  But what he gets is a genie offering him as many wishes as he wants.  There are a couple of catches though.  First, each wish has a consequence accompanying it.  Some consequences are short term, some are permanent.  The bigger the wish, the more uncomfortable the consequence.  For example, Ace's first wish is for a lifetime supply of peanut butter sandwiches, which carries the consequence of a smudge of peanut butter constantly visible on his face for a year.  The second catch is a quest that needs to be completed in seven days or the world will be destroyed by all the world's cats and dogs turning into zombies.  Things get even more complicated when Ace runs into a couple of other kids (wishmakers) with quests of their own that seem to conflict with his.  And as the consequences start to pile up, Ace has to decide just what price he is willing to pay to save the world.  Whitesides has created another fun series opener full of both humor and heart.  The occasional illustrations are a delightful addition.  I look forward to seeing the unexpected places this series will take me.


Saturday, June 23, 2018

BLOG TOUR: Two Truths and a Lie: Histories and Mysteries by Ammi-Joan Paquette & Laurie Ann Thompson


ABOUT THE BOOK

Unbelievable TRUTHS about outrageous people, places and events—with a few outright LIES hiding among them. Can you tell the fakes from the facts?

Did you know that a young girl once saved an entire beach community from a devastating tsunami thanks to something she learned in her fourth-grade geography lesson? Or that there is a person alive today who generates her own magnetic field? Or how about the fact that Benjamin Franklin once challenged the Royal Academy of Brussels to devise a way to make farts smell good?

Welcome to Two Truths and a Lie: Histories and Mysteries! You know the game: Every story in this book is strange and astounding, but one out of every three is an outright lie.

Can you guess which stories are the facts and which are the fakes? It’s not going to be easy. Some false stories are based on truth, and some of the true stories are just plain unbelievable! Don’t be fooled by the photos that accompany each story—it’s going to take all your smarts and some clever research to root out the alternative facts.

From a train that transported dead people to antique photos of real fairies to a dog who was elected mayor, the stories in this book will amaze you! Just don’t believe everything you read. . . .

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Ammi-Joan Paquette loves caves, hates mushy bananas, and is ambivalent about capybaras. She is the author of the novels The Train of Lost Things, Paradox, and Nowhere Girl as well as the Princess Juniper series and many more. She is also the recipient of a PEN/New England Susan P. Bloom Children’s Book Discovery Award honor. Joan lives outside Boston, Massachusetts, where she balances her own writing with her day job as a literary agent. You can visit her online at www.ajpaquette.com.

Laurie Ann Thompson loves capybaras, hates caves, and is ambivalent about mushy bananas. She is the author of several award-winning nonfiction books, including Emmanuel’s Dream,  a picture book biography of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah, which was the recipient of the Schneider Family Book Award and was named an ALA Notable Book and a CCBC Choice, among other accolades. She lives outside Seattle with her family, and you can visit her online at www.lauriethompson.com.

REVIEW

Paquette and Thompson have created another fascinating and fabulous book.  With the prevalence of fake news of all kinds it's become vitally important for young readers to learn to be discerning readers.  Two Truths and a Lie books one and two do a great job of showing young readers the importance of not believing everything you read, no matter how convincing and legitimate it may seem.  This series makes not only a fun read for young readers either.  I've thoroughly enjoyed reading them and seeing if I can figure out which articles are true and which ones aren't.  Sometimes I'm right and occasionally I'm not.  This second book in the series is divided into sections: Hazy Histories, Peculiar Places, and Perplexing People.  Each section has three chapters with each chapter including three articles.  Two of the articles are factual and one is not.  The authors have done a great job of picking their topics (caves, animals, disease, the dead, etc.).  Not only are the topics interesting but the book design is bright and appealing with fun sidebars.  This is a great book for young readers, but it also works well for teachers and parents who want their children to learn to be discerning readers.  One of my new favorite nonfiction series.

EDUCATOR'S GUIDE can be found here.

TOUR SCHEDULE

DATE
BLOG
6/19
6/20
6/21
6/21
6/26
6/26
6/27
6/27
6/27
6/28
6/29


Thursday, June 21, 2018

SERIES THURSDAY: Mighty Jack/MIghty Jack and the Goblin King by Ben Hatke


ABOUT THE BOOK

Jack might be the only kid in the world who's dreading summer. But he's got a good reason: summer is when his single mom takes a second job and leaves him at home to watch his autistic kid sister, Maddy. It's a lot of responsibility, and it's boring, too, because Maddy doesn't talk. Ever. But then, one day at the flea market, Maddy does talk—to tell Jack to trade their mom's car for a box of mysterious seeds. It's the best mistake Jack has ever made.

What starts as a normal little garden out back behind the house quickly grows up into a wild, magical jungle with tiny onion babies running amok, huge, pink pumpkins that bite, and, on one moonlit night that changes everything…a dragon.

REVIEW

Mighty Jack is a fun adventure which isn't surprising.  Fun stories are what I've come to expect from Ben Hatke.  This is a rather unique take on the Jack and the Beanstalk fairy tale.  In this version, young Jack has a younger sister who doesn't talk much who he is expected to look out for when his mother is working.  At a visit to the local farmer's market, Jack trades his mother's car (she is not at all pleased about this) for a strange box full of seeds.  He does this because his sister asked him to and he couldn't resist her request after she actually spoke.  When I read this I thought the man who gave Jack the seeds looked familiar (and I was right--he's from the Zita the Spacegirl series).  Jack and his sister plant the seeds only to realize that their new found garden is rather dangerous.  Jack and Lilly (a neighborhood girl) learn to fight off the dangerous garden elements by using the powers that some of the produce gives them.  But when the garden hurts Jack's sister, he tries to destroy it.  Unfortunately, it doesn't work and his sister is kidnapped and taken to another world.  Jack and Lilly must follow.  The illustrations are compelling and entertaining and the story moves quickly.  As popular as the Zita the Spacegirl books are in my library, I can guarantee that this book will be just as popular.


ABOUT THE BOOK

Like a bolt from the blue, Jack's little sister Maddy is gone—carried into another realm by an ogre.

When Jack and Lilly follow Maddy’s captor through the portal, they are ready for anything . . . except what they find waiting for them in the floating crossroads between worlds. Even the power of their magic plants may not be enough to get them back to earth alive.

Alone and injured, Jack and Lilly must each face their own monsters—as well as giants who grind the bones of human children to feed their “beast” and a fearsome goblin king in the sewers down below.

But when Jack finds himself in a tough spot, help comes from the most unlikely person: the goblin king!

Ben Hatke, the #1 New York Times–bestselling author of Zita the Spacegirl, concludes his latest middle-grade fantasy-adventure graphic novel series, Mighty Jack, with the energetic finale to his retelling of Jack and the Beanstalk.

REVIEW

This book picks up right where Mighty Jack ends with Jack and Lilly entering a portal to find Jack's missing sister.  As they search for Jack's sister, Lilly falls and they get separated.  After sending Jack after his sister, Lilly meets up with a bunch of goblins who are living in a sewer beneath the castle that used to be theirs.  After defeating the Goblin King who wants to marry her or eat her, Lilly sets off with her new found friends to find Jack.  Meanwhile, Jack finds his sister being held captive by giants in a castle.  But they aren't going to eat her themselves, instead they plan to feed her to a machine that will allow them to take over the castle for good.  Jack and Lilly must team up to defeat the giants, even though the price may be higher than they want to pay.  This is a fitting conclusion to the story of Jack and Lilly, although the ending indicates a new beginning of sorts.  Once again, Hatke has created an appealing, exciting adventure that young readers are bound to enjoy.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

PICTURE BOOK REVIEWS: Hello Lighthouse/Goldfish on Vacation/Chester Nez and the Unbreakable Code


ABOUT THE BOOK

A new picture book that will transport readers to the seaside.

Watch the days and seasons pass as the wind blows, the fog rolls in, and icebergs drift by. Outside, there is water all around. Inside, the daily life of a lighthouse keeper and his family unfolds as the keeper boils water for tea, lights the lamp's wick, and writes every detail in his logbook.

REVIEW

Sophie Blackall has created a truly beautiful book in this tale of life in a lighthouse.  I'll admit I've been in a lighthouse, and I couldn't do it.  The limited space and unlimited time to yourself would get to me very quickly.  Of course, lighthouses are run automatically these days, but I thoroughly enjoyed reading about what it was like to live in a lighthouse years ago when that was necessary to keep them running.  Blackall's matter-of-fact text wonderfully complements the gorgeous illustrations that show the many different tasks that a lighthouse keeper had to master.  And yet despite all those tasks, there was much down time.  In the story, the keeper's wife comes to live with him, but their isolation is still clear as they go about their lives with little contact with other people, except when shipwrecked sailors are rescued.  A beautiful tale of a very different way of life from not so long ago.


ABOUT THE BOOK

From a New York Times bestselling author and a rising-star illustrator comes a humorous tale based on an amazing-but-true story about the summer a city fountain was used as a goldfish pond.

H, Little O, and Baby Em are stuck in the city for the summer with only their pet goldfish--Barracuda, Patch, and Fiss--for company. It's looking like it might be a pretty boring vacation, but one day, something exciting happens. Someone starts fixing up the old fountain down the street--the one Grandpa says horses used to drink from before everyone had cars--and a sign appears: "Calling All Goldfish Looking for a Summer Home." H, Little O, and Baby Em can't wait to send their goldfish on vacation, and the fish, well, they seem pretty excited too. Based on the true story of Hamilton Fountain in New York City, this charming tale of one special summer.

REVIEW

I quite enjoyed this cute story about summer in the city.  The three children live in an apartment building near an old un-used fountain.  But one summer the fountain is revamped and opened.  The neighborhood children are invited to bring their goldfish to the fountain for a 'vacation' from their small bowls.  In the process, the children get together and have a good time as well.  The story is a fun one about community and finding ways to enjoy whatever environment you might be in.  Of course, I'm pretty sure that the children don't get back the same goldfish they dropped off, but does it matter?  The illustrations are bright and attractive and complement the story nicely.


ABOUT THE BOOK

As a young Navajo boy, Chester Nez had to leave the reservation and attend boarding school, where he was taught that his native language and culture were useless. But Chester refused to give up his heritage. Years later, during World War II, Chester—and other Navajo men like him—was recruited by the US Marines to use the Navajo language to create an unbreakable military code. Suddenly the language he had been told to forget was needed to fight a war. This powerful picture book biography contains backmatter including a timeline and a portion of the Navajo code, and also depicts the life of an original Navajo code talker while capturing the importance of heritage.

REVIEW

This is an important story about sticking to your values no matter what.  And even better, it's a true story.  When young Betoli, a Navajo boy, is sent off to boarding school, he's told that his new name will be Chester.  Like so many Native children of the time, he faced a school telling him he needed to give up his culture in order to be successful in 'the white man's' world.  He wasn't allowed to use his language, he had to dress and look like a white boy, and he had to attend school in a place where his people suffered greatly.  But Betoli/Chester was a brave kid, and he chose to hold on to the things he valued, including his language and culture.  And his summers spent at home helped him to do so.  Later as he prepared to leave the school, World War II broke out.  Despite the way he had been treated during his school years, Betoli/Chester chose to fight for his country.  He ended up joining the Marines when they came looking for Navajo men who could speak both English and Navajo.  He joined a group of other Navajo speakers and helped create a code that the enemy couldn't break.  He then spent the rest of the war using the code to transmit messages.  His cultural traditions helped him survive the war as well as the combat fatigue (PTSS) he experienced when he got home.  A remarkable story about courage and faith and integrity, a story that reminds readers of the importance of choosing for oneself what to believe and how to live one's life.

Monday, June 18, 2018

MMGM: The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani


ABOUT THE BOOK

It's 1947, and India, newly independent of British rule, has been separated into two countries: Pakistan and India. The divide has created much tension between Hindus and Muslims, and hundreds of thousands are killed crossing borders.

Half-Muslim, half-Hindu twelve-year-old Nisha doesn't know where she belongs, or what her country is anymore. When Papa decides it's too dangerous to stay in what is now Pakistan, Nisha and her family become refugees and embark first by train but later on foot to reach her new home. The journey is long, difficult, and dangerous, and after losing her mother as a baby, Nisha can't imagine losing her homeland, too. But even if her country has been ripped apart, Nisha still believes in the possibility of putting herself back together.

REVIEW

Nisha likes her life except for one thing.  Her mother died when she and her twin brother Amil were born.  When she is given a diary for her twelveth birthday, she decides to write letters to her mother.  Life in her village isn't perfect but it isn't bad either.  She and her brother attend the local school where she has no real friends and her brother is bullied but she gets to help out the family cook, Kazi prepare the meals.  Her father is a doctor who works at the local hospital and while he isn't particularly tender, he does take care of them, even though he has little patience for Amil's learning difficulties.

But things take a sudden turn when India gains her independence and tensions between Muslims and Hindus explode into violence.  With a mother who was Muslim and a father who is Hindu, Nisha doesn't understand why this is happening.  Why people who used to get along, don't anymore.  The announcement that India will be split into two separate countries (India and Pakistan) the violence gets worse.  Nisha learns that her family is going to have to leave the only home she's ever known because Hindus are no longer welcome in what will soon be Muslim-dominated Pakistan.  Heart-broken and confused, Nisha must leave behind most of what she's ever known, including her beloved Kazi.  The journey itself is difficult for everyone but meeting her mother's brother offers a spark of hope.

I really enjoyed reading this book and not only because it takes place outside of the United States.  Nisha is a fabulous character, who though she's growing up is still a child in many ways.  She wants to know what the adults are whispering about, but once she finds out, she doesn't understand it and it scares her.  She gets along with her brother most of the time, but they get on each other's nerves sometimes too.  And Nisha struggles with her own personal weaknesses as well, including shyness.  I appreciated the fact that the problems in Nisha's life aren't all solved by the end of the book.  While things are better, her life has still almost completely changed.  Yet hope remains alive and well despite all the heartache and changes in Nisha's life.


Tuesday, June 5, 2018

PICTURE BOOK REVIEWS: I Got It! by David Wiesner/Hello, Hello by Brendan Wenzel


ABOUT THE BOOK

David Wiesner presents a near-wordless account of the most suspenseful, nerve-wracking few seconds in a baseball game.

The few seconds after the ball leaves the bat can be infinitely long. For this eager young outfielder, there's plenty of time to envision the increasingly fantastic and funny situations that might interfere with making the catch. Summoning determination and courage, he overcomes the imaginary obstacles and turns them into a springboard for success.

REVIEW

I'll admit the first time I read this I was reading it to a class of first graders.  I didn't have time to read and ponder it the way I should a Wiesner book.  So when a tree root and then a tree popped up in the baseball field, I wasn't quite prepared.  And then an enormous baseball appeared, and then the boy playing ball was tiny and his teammates were huge.  I had to ad lib to explain to the students why these strange things were appearing in what at first seemed to be a straightforward story of a boy playing in a pickup baseball game.  Afterward, as I thought about it though I wasn't too surprised.  This is a David Wiesner book after all.  And Wiesner is known for creating books that look at the world in a different, even fantastical way.  At first I was thinking the book was all about symbolism.  The symbolism revolving around excuses for clumsiness (the tree), the size a ball seems when it's coming straight at you (huge), and how it feels to mess up and have your teammates rush in to cover for you (you feel very small).  And while I still see that symbolism in the book, I now see that the book is about a young boy who is afraid of messing up and starts to imagine all the different (sometimes funny) ways that he could mess up catching the ball.   Luckily, by the time he finally gets the chance to catch the ball, he pulls himself together.  Once again, Wiesner has created an unusual, imaginative tale with gorgeous illustrations.  I enjoy using his books because there are many different ways to interpret them.  And this book is no different.  Next time I use the book, I'll be better prepared to ask students about how they interpret Wiesner's unusual additions.


ABOUT THE BOOK

This gorgeous follow-up to the Caldecott Honor–winning They All Saw a Cat explores another aspect of seeing the world for young children. Beginning with two cats, one black and one white, a chain of animals appears before the reader, linked together by at least one common trait. From simple colors and shapes to more complex and abstract associations, each unexpected encounter celebrates the magnificent diversity of our world—and ultimately paints a story of connection. Brendan Wenzel's joyous, rhythmic text and exuberant art encourage readers to delight in nature's infinite differences and to look for—and marvel at—its gorgeous similarities. It all starts with a simple "Hello."

REVIEW

Wenzel has created an beautiful book about animals with a rather unusual premise.  The book starts by introducing animals that are black and white, basic colors, then moves to more colorful animals.  He continues by introducing animals that have stripes and spots, then animals of different sizes, then animals with unusual tongues, ears, hands and noses.  It's a brilliant strategy starting with the simple (black and white cats) to the more complex.  What makes it even more brilliant is the way he matches animals who are different but who have one major thing in common, such as a whale shark, and a spotted chameleon, a proboscis monkey and an elephant seal, a porcupine and an echidna.  The last animal from the previous page greets (Hello) the new set of animals making for a continuous line of animals.  Thankfully Wenzel includes a list of all the animals in the back of the book.  This is a good thing because I didn't know all the animals and neither will child readers.  When I read the book to a class of second graders they had a blast trying to guess the ones they didn't know though.  It also turns out that Wenzel has highlighted animals that are threatened or endangered, and in the author's note at the end of the book encourages young readers to find out more about these animals and support those who are trying to save them.  The book is a beautiful combination of brilliant illustrations, connections, and introduction to a fascinating and important topic.

Monday, June 4, 2018

NONFICTION MONDAY: Amazon Adventure by Sy Montgomery


ABOUT THE BOOK

Considered the “lungs of the world,” the Amazon provides a full fifth of the world’s oxygen, and every year unsustainable human practices destroy 2.7 million acres. What can be done to help? That’s where Project Piaba comes in.

Join the award-winning author Sy Montgomery and the photographer Keith Ellenbogen as they traverse the river and rainforest to discover how tiny fish, called piabas, can help preserve the Amazon, its animals, and the rich legacy of its people. Amazon Adventure is an eye-opening—and ultimately hopeful—exploration of how humanity’s practices are affecting and shaping not only the Amazon, but our entire environment.

REVIEW

The author and photograph set off on a trip to the Amazon in this book to document the efforts of a group of scientists to help save the Amazon rain forest.  Project Piaba focuses on the collection of a variety of tiny fish found in the Rio Negro, one of the Amazon's tributaries.  The local people collect the fish, that would normally die during the dry season, and sell them to the aquarium market.  But fish farming and conservation efforts are threatening this environmentally sustaining lifestyle which might force more people into destroying the forest in order to support themselves and their families.  The scientists are there to check the health of the ecosystem and to come up with ways to help the native piebeiros (those who hunt the tiny fish).  While the scientists (and the author and photographer) are there they experience the local celebration revolving around these fish.  The result is a fascinating account of science in action and the importance of involving native peoples in saving ecosystems.  Cultural traditions also shine through in story in beautiful photographs and an account of a local tradition that revolves around the Amazon ecosystem.  Books in the Scientists in the Field series are important in helping young readers understand how people are making a difference in the world.
 
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